07 July, 2017

Spider-Man Film Series Reaction: From Raimi, to Webb, to Watts

Spider-Man has been my favorite superhero since I was a kid. He was the first comic-book hero I followed, and I collected every single one of his books until I stopped reading comics (at some point in the 90s). So, I’ve felt a great attachment to the character, and the movies --even when I didn’t like them. But it’s been years since I watched most of them (I returned to SPIDER-MAN 2 several times over the years, though).

Leading up to SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING I decided to re-watch all the previous Spider-Man movies:

Sam Raimi’s SPIDER-MAN (2002), SPIDER-MAN 2 (2004), SPIDER-MAN 3 (2007); and Marc Webb’s THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (2012) and 2014 AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (2014).

Because they were fresher in my mind and essentially reboots of the series, I decided to tackle Marc Webb’s versions first. I knew I hadn’t liked either movie but was willing to give them a shot anyway since one’s opinion can be influenced by a moment in time (or other people’s opinions). Below are my reactions to each movie (I watched them all over several days), including SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (which I just returned from seeing for the first time).

I found myself bored throughout most of this movie. Unlike many people I know, I am not a big fan of origin stories. I don’t need to see how someone came to be the hero, and this movie decided to cover an origin story I knew all too well –considering Raimi did it only 10 years earlier. Sometimes a movie gets the origin story right (IRON-MAN and WONDER WOMAN come to mind) but once we get to the second movie, I tend to feel I don’t need to return to the first (as you will soon see, maybe I should change that opinion). 

There are some fun Spidey moments that felt like the comic-book version, perhaps more so than Raimi’s Spider-Man, but so much of the atmosphere in this movie is dark and too… cool. This is not Peter Parker at all. Over the years I’ve heard many people praise Andrew Garfield’s acting in these movies and re-watching them I don’t see it. Is he a terrific actor? Yes. I think he’s turning into one of the best of his generation. He had a great 2016 and I’ve gotten to see an early cut of his next movie (I’m not allowed to say much) and I think he only solidifies his greatness in it. But he does not deliver the Peter Parker from the comic-books. Webb doesn’t make him a goofy nerd like Raimi did. He makes him kind of a cool guy… way too cool for Peter Parker. And I respect a director’s artistic freedom but I don’t have to like it. There are a handful of excellent acting moments for Garfield but not once did I feel like I was watching him channeling Peter Parker.

His Spider-Man is better at times than Tobey Maguire’s –more talkative and jokey, like in the comics- but at least Maguire’s entire portrayal of Spidey is consistent with his Peter Parker. And, as I’ll mention in a bit, re-watching the Sam Raimi version after Webb’s was an eye-opener. Unfortunately, we get a lot of Peter Parker not working for me and not a lot of Spider-Man. I didn’t hate the movie but I will never watch it again… unless someone pays me a lot of money.

Marc Webb’s THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (2014)
I saw this movie once, in theater, and swore I’d never watch it again. Obviously, I didn’t follow through on that promise, but as with Webb’s first, I feel confident saying I will definitely never revisit this movie unless paid large bags of cash. It’s not as terrible as I remember but it falls apart quickly in the final hour, with one really powerful scene toward the end that still kind of doesn’t make much sense. There were a lot of good actors in this movie doing their best… with poor execution to blame for it not working. Also, why is Peter Parker such a cool guy?! This is not Peter Parker! Oh, I already said this? Well, he’s even “cooler” in this movie.

Sam Raimi’s SPIDER-MAN (2002)
I don’t know why but when I originally saw this movie, I didn’t love it. I remember having a long conversation with a friend about it after seeing it and I was down on a lot of the beats in the story. I imagine it was a moment-in-time type of thing but it shaped how I viewed the movie over the next 15 years. I’ve revisited once since but I don’t remember when and I don’t remember if I gave it a serious chance to change my mind at the time. And perhaps it is good I watched Marc Webb’s origin story of Spidey first, because this time… I found Raimi’s Spidey origin story terrific.

Sure, there are little problems here and there with it –MJ is kind of stupid and nothing like the character in the comics; Aunt May’s “yellow eyes” moment is cringe-worthy; and there’s some theatrical acting in several scenes that doesn’t feel like it belongs in a movie- but overall it’s a knock-out origin story. Rewatching it, I was reminded of Donner’s SUPERMAN and the most recent (as of this review) WONDER WOMAN. All three movies are origin stories with earnest heroes… with directors not afraid to amplify the genuineness of their journeys. 

Sam Raimi’s SPIDER-MAN 2 (2004)
This movie has remained one of my favorite comic-book movies since I saw it. Re-watching it, I feel it earned the praise it continues to receive. This movie has two villains, both who care about Peter on some level; a great Peter Parker; a wonderful arc for Spider-Man; a plot that builds until the final moments that pay off beautifully. This is a near-perfect emotional roadmap for any protagonist’s journey. All the performances are good to great; every character is developed well (even MJ, who was the one problem in the first); and the hero vs villains arc feels thought out and earned. The only flaws I can find are early in the movie and a few gags that don’t really work for me now (like the elevator scene when Spidey has started to lose his powers).

Sam Raimi’s SPIDER-MAN 3 (2007)
This was a troubled production. Raimi was forced to put things into the movie he didn’t want and it shows. It’s too busy; the characters feel like they've overstayed their welcome; and the villains feel unfocused. Also, the Peter and MJ relationship is painfully annoying. There are some terrific scenes that likely would have been better if Raimi had been given more control, but it now stands as an example of Sony meddling too much.

Finally someone has made the comic-book version of Peter Parker AND Spider-Man! Raimi delivered a very good version of Peter Parker. Webb delivered a closer-to-the-comic version of Spider-Man than Raimi. But Watts and Tom Holland give us the best version of both. Even if the story doesn’t work as well as Raimi’s first two, it doesn’t matter since Watts (with many writers) sets the standard for all future Spider-Man movies with his version of the character.

Sony has finally given up narrative control and it shows. This movie has the mark of Marvel all over it. There is just enough Tony Stark to not feel overwhelming. Peter’s school mates are mostly good to excellent. His best friend feels genuine and not forced. The jokes are, for the most part, solid and don’t feel tacked on. Spidey’s gadgets are fun. The high school story lines all feel like something you would have found in the comics. And the action is fun and exciting… save for one sequence that feels like a strobe-light of every bad modern-action sequence in every Transformers movie, but worse. Thankfully, it is the one blemish on this beautiful character piece that has, arguably, the best final line of any Spider-Man movie (and my favorite final post-credit scene… because it’s essentially meaningless but hilarious). Oh and the villain! Marvel gave us a good villain! Though, there is one story element about the villain I thought felt too… small-world for my taste. But otherwise, he was great.

Sam Raimi’s SPIDER-MAN and SPIDER-MAN 2, along with Jon Watts’ SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING, are fantastic movies in the franchise. The other three? Thankfully I never have to watch them ever again. I’m officially retiring from those… unless someone pays me large bags of cash to watch them again.

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